Saturday, February 26, 2011

How will Egypt's Constitution evolve?

On February 14, Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced that there would be a committee of justices appointed to draft amendments to Egypt's constitution and that they would have 10 days to complete the revisions.  The proposed revisions would then be submitted to the public for referendum within 2 months.

Though there hasn't been any announcement yet from the committee working on amending the constitution, there are approximately 6-7 articles of the Constitution that are expected to be revised for now:.  Here are some of the changes that may be proposed:

*  limit the number of terms a President can serve, probably to two terms (changing it from the current article which allows unlimited terms);

*  limit the ability of the President to suspend the constitution;

*  change the way in which the constitution is amended (so the President isn't the only one who can propose amendments)

*  authorize the judicial system as the body that oversees the electoral process;

*  allow numerous methods by which candidates can be nominated to run for President.  Previously, it was virtually impossible for anyone who wasn't from the Democratic National Party (Mubarak's party) to be nominated for president.  The proposed amendment could be allowing three ways for a candidate to be nominated:  1)  candidate obtains 30,000 signatures of voters in 12 of the departments (i.e., different regions) of Egypt; 2) obtain signatures from 150 members of parliament; 3)  be nominated by one member of Parliament.

If you'd like to read more, here is a BBC article with a more detailed analysis.

Many people think that the proposed amendments are simply the start of much longer process that would include major revisions or a rewriting of the Constitution once a democratically elected Parliament and President is in place. 

Here's a video of a young man I met in a cafe in Maadi (our neighborhood in Cairo).  Our conversation included his opinions about Egypt's Constitution.
Here's the link to this video if you have trouble viewing it on this blog:

On paper, it does seem that Egypt's constitution is decent on many human rights issues, with the main catch being that the emergency law which has been in effect for the past three decades effectively suspends many of these provisions.  

Here is a sampling of some of the rights provided in Egypt's constitution.  For the full list of articles in this section, click on this link:

All citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination due to sex, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed.
Art.41:  Individual freedom is a natural right not subject to violation except in cases of flagrante delicto. No person may be arrested, inspected, detained or have his freedom restricted in any way or be prevented from free movement except by an order necessitated by investigations and the preservation of public security. This order shall be given by the competent judge or the Public Prosecution in accordance with the provisions of the law.
Art.42:  Any citizen arrested, detained or whose freedom is restricted shall be treated in a manner concomitant with the preservation of his dignity. No physical or moral harm is to be inflicted upon him. He may not be detained or imprisoned except in places defined by laws organizing prisons. If a confession is proved to have been made by a person under any of the aforementioned forms of duress or coercion, it shall be considered invalid and futile.
Art.46:  The State shall guarantee the freedom of belief and the freedom of practising religious rights.
Art.47:  Freedom of opinion shall be guaranteed. Every individual shall have the right to express his opinion and to publicise it verbally, in writing, by photography or by other means of expression within the limits of the law. Self criticism and constructive criticism shall guarantee the safety of the national structure.
Art.48:  Liberty of the press, printing, publication and mass media shall be guaranteed . Censorship on newspapers shall be forbidden as well as notifying, suspending or cancelling them by administrative methods. In a state of emergency or in time of war, a limited censorship maybe imposed on the newspapers, publications and mass media in matters related to public safety or for purposes of national security in accordance with the law.

Art.58:  Defence of the motherland is a sacred duty and conscription shall be obligatory in accordance with the law.
Art.59:  Safeguarding, consolidating and preserving the socialist gains shall be a national duty.

Art.54:  Citizens shall have the right to peaceful and unarmed private assembly, without the need for prior notice. Such private meetings should not be attended by security men. Public meetings, processions and gatherings shall be allowed within the limits of the law.

There are also some bold articles on economic justice that I assume were drafted during the years of Gamal Abd Al-Nasser's rule (1952-1970) who was known for his socialist initiatives involving nationalization of some businesses (such as the Suez Canal Company) and agrarian reform.  Here are a few articles from the section in Egypt's Constitution on "Economic Constituents":

Art.23:  The national economy shall be organised in accordance with a comprehensive development plan which ensures raising the national income, fair distribution, raising the standard of living, solving the problem of unemployment, increasing work opportunities, connecting wages with production, fixing a minimum and maximum limit for wages in a manner that guarantees lessening the disparities between incomes

Art.26:  Workers shall have a share in the management and profits of projects . They shall be committed to the development of production and the implementation of the plan in their production units, in accordance with the law. Protecting the means of production is a national duty . Workers shall be represented on the boards of directors of the public sector units by at least 50% of the number of members of these boards. The law shall guarantee for the small farmers and small craftsmen 80%of the membership on the boards of directors of the agricultural and industrial co-operatives.

Art.37:  The law shall fix the maximum limit of land ownership with a view to protecting the farmer and the agricultural labourer from exploitation and asserting the authority of the alliance of the people’s working forces in villages.
Art.38:  The tax system shall be based on social justice
In other news, there was another  good-sized protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square today.  The news reports said there were thousands of people; the photos looked like it might be tens of thousands.  The journalists covering the rally discussed several reasons for the protests: 1) urging that more of the protesters' demands be met such as lifting the Emergency Law and releasing the dozens, perhaps hundreds of political detainees; Some protesters also asked for a new prime minister since the current one was a Mubarak appointee; 2) solidarity with the pro-democracy struggles happening in other countries around the Middle East; 3) remembering those who died in the revolution.  The feeling in the square was also reported to be celebratory.

Meanwhile, we are all carefully watching and worrying about Libya.  I heard yesterday on one of the news channels that the death toll was probably over 2,000.  Gaddafi was said to have ordered mercenaries to go from house to house searching for and killing protesters.  Libyan diplomats around the world have been resigning.  It's estimated that 37,000 refugees have fled Libya.   I heard on the news a couple days ago that Gaddafi's forces were blowing up or otherwise destroying the roads between east Libya (now controlled by protesters) and Tripoli where there is still much violence.  They're doing this to prevent protesters from the east from coming to help those in Tripoli.  

The international community is starting to take strong steps.  Obama announced that the U.S. would be imposing sanctions against Libya.  The UN Security Council is working on draft resolution to refer Libya (i.e., Guaddafi) to the International Criminal Court in the Hague to investigate whether war crimes have been committed.  There is a recommendation that Libya be suspended from the U.N., a proposal that would require 2/3 of the General Assembly to vote in favor of it.   France and Britain have proposed an arms embargo and financial sanctions against Libyan government.  NATO agrees to do an arms embargo and a travel ban against Libya.  

The Libyan ambassador to the U.S. spoke out urging international help for the people of Libya.  He reported that Gaddafi said in a recent speech that either he will rule over them or he will kill them, destroy them.  The ambassador ended his speech by saying, "Please, save Libya."

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